The Vancouver Symphony launched its most ambitious New Music Festival ever Tuesday night: six performances from January 24 – 29, including a ground-breaking partnership with Early Music Vancouver dubbed New Music for Old Instruments, and performances by Hard Rubber Orchestra, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Standing Wave Ensemble, Glenn Buhr & The Button Factory Band, as well as the Langley Fine Arts School Youth Choir, and UBC University Singers & Choral Union.

The VSO’s Music Director, Bramwell Tovey, an internationally-acclaimed composer in his own right, launched the VSO’s first New Music Festival in 2014. This year’s Festival features a number of landmark premieres, including two explorations of the ravages of war: Jeffrey Ryan’s sublime Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, created with Canada’s War Poet in Afghanistan, Suzanne M. Steele; and Glenn Buhr’s new work Guernica 2017, his 4th Symphony, which is billed as a musical rant against the way children are victimized by war.

The festival began with a bang Tuesday night with John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra, an extraordinary assemblage of brilliant musicians, taking us through an adventurous, rousing and at times luminous deconstructionist amalgam of big-band jazz, improv and tonal exploration.

Standouts were Cameron Wilson’s Joe Canada, rife with references, humour and beauty; Korsrud’s own Crush, which was exhilarating, and framed a piano cadenza that was profoundly beautiful; TDU/HRO le feu et l’artifice by Giorgio Magnanensi – Artistic Director of Vancouver New Music – an exploration in his words of a virtuosity of collaboration, the balance between purely visceral co-creation (le feu) and a purely intellectual interpretation (l’artifice), of collage and heterogeneous forms; and Peggy Lee’s If You Hear — a tribute to the late jazz bassist Charlie Haden — an evocation of a Bach chorale transmogrified through beautifully strange and luminescently lyric progressions that left the audience profoundly moved.

Still to come is New Music for Old Instruments, a kind of mini-festival within the New Music Festival: 2 concerts curated by Rodney Sharman, an innovative new partnership between the VSO and Early Music Vancouver. These concerts feature works by a number of CMC Associate composers including Christopher Reiche, Murray Adaskin, Linda Caitlin Smith, Peter Hannan, Rodney Sharman, and Jocelyn Morlock.

Pure Piano, hosted by Jocelyn Morlock, features four of the most incredible contemporary music pianists in the country — Corey Hamm, Rachel Iwaasa, Miranda Wong, and Lisa Cay Miller — exploring the outer limits of the keyboard through 2 interconnected themes: music that expands the sonic capabilities of the piano by various means, and music that combines influences from past eras and various cultures.

On Sunday, the closing concert of the festival, Bramwell Tovey and the VSO join forces with Standing Wave Ensemble in an eclectic and wide-ranging performance with many ties to the natural world, as well as to the unnatural, including two world premiere’s by the VSO’s Juno-nominated Composer In Residence Jocelyn Morlock: Hullabaloo: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th,  and Corvid, which like the remaining works on the program references birds and nature. Those works including Emilie LeBel’s monograph of birds-eye views, Korndorf’s The Smile of Maud Lewis and Jennifer Higdon’s On a Wire.

Continuing with the unexpected in another world premiere, Marcus Goddard’s Spooky Action at a Distance is inspired by Einstein’s colourful description of the apparent impossibility of two geographically-separate quantum particles influencing one another. Somewhat shockingly, this has recently been proven to occur.

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